Why Do I Ache All Over?
| Why Does My Body Hurt All Over?
There are lots of possible causes for aches and pains in our joints, but the first thing someone usually asks their doctor is whether it could be arthritis. The type of arthritis we mean here is called osteoarthritis and is basically wear and tear on the joints, so it tends to start in our mid-40s. It usually attacks the bigger joints like the hips and knees. You can't stop it, but you can improve the symptoms by keeping your weight down and remaining active (read about natural treatments for arthritis). Glucosamine supplements have also been shown to help with pain in arthritic joints. They can be bought at the pharmacy and need to be taken in a dosage of 1500g a day. Arthritis often runs in families, so you may have a grandmother who had to get a new hip because her own wore out. But the fact of the matter is that we are all susceptible to arthritis whether or not it runs in the family. Read about the symptoms of osteoarthritis and learn how to spot the signs of the disease.
Could It Be Fibromyalgia?
With fibromyalgia syndrome, you hurt all over and tend to be very tired. You get generalized pain in your bones, with tender points that if touched produce sharp bursts of pain. Women - particularly middle-aged women - tend to suffer from this much more than men, and it is often seen in those with irritable bowel syndrome. It is often associated with problems sleeping, stiffness and a lack of clarity in memory and thinking - many call this the 'fibro-fog'. Nobody really understands the causes of fibromyalgia, and it can be extremely difficult to treat. Physiotherapy, exercise, acupuncture and analgesics (painkillers) are the mainstay of treatment, but it can be hit and miss. Many patients find it therapeutic to be part of a fibromyalgia support group as they often feel that doctors neither understand nor acknowledge the condition as there is no diagnostic test for it. Read about the symptoms of fibromyalgia and learn how to spot the signs.
What About Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when your body starts to reject your joints. Doctors refer to this as an autoimmune disorder because in effect you mount an immune response against yourself. It occurs most commonly in women, outnumbering men by three to one, and tends to come on in your 40s. It can come on slowly or develop rapidly. The small joints of the hands and feet are typically affected and can become stiff, painful, swollen and inflamed. In one in five women the disease tends to be mild, while one in twenty have a very severe debilitating form. In its most severe form, you won't be able to do tasks like opening jars or doing up buttons. Rheumatoid arthritis is often accompanied by tiredness (see also, why am I tired all the time?) The mainstay of treatment is preventing damage to the joints and easing the symptoms.
Could I Have Lupus?
This diagnosis needs to be considered if you feel tired and run down and have joint pain, stiffness and swelling. It is another autoimmune disease in which your immune system starts to attack your joints, blood vessels, skin, kidneys and other organs - doctors call it systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) if it affects more than one system in the body. Between 60 and 90 per cent of people who get this disease are women, and it mostly strikes between the ages of 15 and 44. As it can affect any organ in the body, its symptoms are varied, ranging from joint pain and tiredness to anemia, kidney problems and skin rashes. Each case is different so lupus is often missed. If left unchecked, it can silently damage joints and vital organs like the kidneys, heart and brain and also result in recurrent miscarriage - missing this disease can have disastrous consequences. The difficulty is that there is no single blood test to diagnose it, so often there is more miss than hit. Ask your doctor to screen for autoantibodies - the antibodies that attack your system in autoimmune diseases - if you feel your body is letting you down and general blood results aren't coming up with any answers.
What Should I Say To The Doctor?
All doctors regularly see patients with aches and pains, it is a very common complaint. They will ask searching questions to work out why you are having symptoms - they are not just being nosey; they have a real reason for asking. Be sure to tell your doctor about skin rashes, fevers, weight changes, night sweats, bowel symptoms, sleep problems, recent trips abroad, drugs you are taking, family history, joint swelling, urinary problems and energy levels. They need to know everything relevant to piece together the diagnosis.
The Next Step
Thyroid problems, diabetes, low levels of iron and vitamin B12 as well as other deficiencies can give you aches and pains. Standard blood profiles will be done to pick these up. Your doctor should also check your blood for inflammation by doing what are called an ESR (erythrocyte sedimentation rate) and a CRP (C-reactive protein test) as well as checking for rheumatoid factor and screening for autoantibodies. An infection screen for glandular fever and hepatitis may also be considered, and urine tests may be sent off. Make an appointment to discuss the results with the doctor in a couple of weeks - this is much better than the 'no news is good news' approach.
No Problem Found?
Aches and pains can often be a symptom of low mood and generalized fatigue. Try some graduated exercise (start with 15 minutes a day and do an additional 5 minutes every second or third day until you reach 40 minutes a day) and adhere to a healthy diet. Consider the diagnosis of depression, and discuss this with your doctor or a friend if it could be relevant. Aches and pains are incredibly common during the menopause too (thanks to the effects of declining estrogen levels). So don't despair that nothing has been found in blood tests; instead be grateful that it signifies there is nothing untoward going on.
Tip: Joint aches and pains may be the first sign of a thyroid problem.
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